Strategy 8: Differentiate Instruction

When groups of students are at different places in their learning, you can customize problems based on their readiness for moving ahead.

To do this, start by identifying the learning target for the assignment. Then write a typical “grade level” task that is interesting, challenging and requires students to use the learning target. After studying the pre-assessment data to identify the needs of struggling and advanced learners, adjust at least one aspect of the assignment as needed. This can be:
  • the process (simple to complex)
  • the content (difficult numbers or simple ones)
  • the resources needed to solve the problem
  • or the products (how the solution will be presented)

Here’s an example from When Students Choose the Challenge, by David Suarez in Educational Leadership, Nov. 2007:

Lesson Topic: Problem solving with linear equations

Green-level task (foundational)
The difference in the ages of two people is 8 years. The older person is 3 times the age of the younger. How old is each?

Blue-level task (intermediate)
The length of a rectangle is 3 less than half the width. If the perimeter is 18, find the length and width.

Black-level task (advanced)
When asked for the time, a problem-posing professor said, “if from the present time, you subtract one-sixth of the time from now until noon tomorrow, you get exactly one-third of the time from noon until now.” What time was it?

You can assign these problems to students to meet their learning levels, or you can let them “choose the challenge.” David Suarez reports that when students are allowed to choose their level of challenge, they most often choose a harder task than you would have assigned to them.